Without apology, I freely admit to a serious coffee addiction. Every morning I start my day with one or two venti non-fat lattes, this week alternating between Pumpkin Spice and Caramel Macchiato. While I would go broke if I did not have my own espresso machine at home, I still manage to pop in to Starbucks and other local coffee shops a few times every month when out and about.

The last time I did so I saw a sign on the counter announcing that every Saturday afternoon, they would be hosting “Coffee classes.” With my love of java and the fact that I make my own coffee drinks every day, I would love to brush up on my coffee knowledge.

But besides thinking that this class was something I’d like to attend myself, I whipped out my pen and wrote a napkin note to myself, because this is a ‘grande’ marketing idea for almost any small business.

Classes like these would be a great way to draw already engaged customers even deeper into relationship with your business and it’s also a great way to introduce prospects or indifferent customers to new products or services.

So you don’t serve coffee? Good news: This isn’t about the coffee.
Free classes, seminars and demonstrations are a great way to educate interested prospects and customers about products and services they haven’t yet tried. The trick to attracting attendees is to do just what Starbucks did, educate people about your products and services in a very non-threatening, non-salesy, low to no pressure way.

Here’s what I mean:

They didn’t offer up a class on Starbucks coffee, they offered up a coffee class. They are giving people who love coffee a chance to learn more (presumably) about things like how coffee is grown, how blends and roasts are made, and what types of processes are needed to produce various coffee drinks. My guess is that attendees will also be treated to samples at the event. It would be equivalent to a winery offering wine tasting, growing or making education or a local bar with its own microbrewery offering some type of beer classes.

And you can apply the same principle and create classes for almost any type of business:

  • Does your business provide financial services? You could hold estate planning, budgeting or retirement planning classes.
  • Do you offer salon or spa services? You could offer classes in current styles and trends for hair and makeup, celebrity look how-to or seasonal styles, hair and skin care.
  • Are you a realtor or mortgage professional? Hold classes to educate consumers about various lending programs, how to qualify for a mortgage, or how to best prepare a home for sale.

And so it goes. Almost no matter what type of business you have, you can think of topics that are related to your business but not only specifically about your products or services, and use them as a vehicle to expose individuals who represent your ideal client types and leads to your products and services.

You can use classes as a way to connect with people in your community who are at various stages of the buying process, so that you establish and build your reputation with them as an expert in your field.

You can use free classes and seminars to help you identify leads—individuals who may not be in the market for your products and services right now, but who may be in the future, or who may have friends or family to refer to your business.

If you like this idea but don’t feel that your business provides you with a topic for which to offer classes, you can also view this as a cooperative marketing opportunity and partner with other professionals or other businesses who serve the same types of clients that you do. In fact, a joint event offers several advantages. Not only do you share costs, but you also share contacts and have a greater reach for extending class invitations out into your respective constituencies.

Here are some more ideas when it comes to creating free classes to bring people in to your business and expose them to your products and services in non-threatening, non-sales-ey ways:

  • Establish a weekly or monthly time when you will offer free education or demonstrations to any interested customers or local community members.
  • Hold quarterly or semi-annual open house events featuring free mini-classes, demonstrations, refreshments and door prizes.
  • To make sure you don’t engage in “hit and miss marketing” when it comes to classes, which will  require the investment of your time and other resources, make sure that your topics are going to be interesting to your customers and prospects. Survey customers in-store and online to find out what types of topics they might want to know more about. Benchmark competitors. Use networking events to ask peers for advice and feedback.
  • Invite other professionals or business owners to participate and bring free education on a variety of topics to people at your place of business. Chances are these professionals will also be willing to invite their customers to attend as well; or you could even work with a local business owners group to set up a round robin of free classes at local businesses which will be promoted by all participating businesses.
  • Create webinars and post educational videos on YouTube. This is an especially great option as people can ‘attend’ them any time, from anywhere. And since they are virtual, there is little to no cost to you to present them. If you are not comfortable making educational videos, consider video-taping your live events and making them available to the public online.
  • Create branded PDF and web page “tip sheets” and short videos that give your customers and prospects “insider” education, seasonal or monthly ideas and tips relative to your industry, products or services to post on social media, your blog and website, YouTube, etc.

Investing in the education of customers and prospects could bring “grande” results not only in terms of sales but in managing and cultivating customer relationships and employee engagement. It could be the vehicle to help you reap new referrals not only from customers but from among your peers as a result of networking and cooperative marketing and event efforts. So take a lesson from Starbucks when it comes to marketing your business in a new, grande way!